Now that the Irish have proved that they remain the nation of Molly Bloom, the eyes of Europe return to the Conservative party.
Tory front bencher Michael Gove was on the radio this morning, explaining his party’s refusal to confirm what it will do is the Lisbon treaty is already ratified by the time it comes to power. If ratification is still not completed in all 26 other member states, and at the present time it is outstanding in two, then Conservative policy is clear. But if ratification is completed?
Michael Gove would not say. Sticking to the possibility that either or Poland or the Czech Republic will be yet to complete ratification by then, he said that “We’re very careful not to make assumptions about what other countries will do.”
Well, isn’t that the problem? For what if the Tories do get to hold their referendum and are able to kill the treaty as a result? Britain’s long-standing policy of seeking closer cooperation with its European neighbours will not merely be halted but ripped up. The anti-Europeans in Britain might welcome this, but what about our relations with the rest of the EU? What kind of damage might be done to Britain’s interests there?
This is the kind of thing we hope that our politicians would have thought about before embarking on such a potentially destructive policy. They have to make plans for likely eventualities. I don’t find Michael Gove’s blithe confession of his inability to think ahead very comforting.
Boris Johnson, mayor of London, has suggested that there ought to be some kind of “consultation” in the absence of a referendum. He said:
“If and when the treaty is ratified and that’s before a Conservative government comes in, then it’s a difficult matter, and obviously William Hague and David Cameron will have to give effect to the consultation I think people will want to have. I think you will find that there are things that could be done, and it’s certainly the case that you could put key parts of this treaty to the people and you could certainly find out what people thought about it.”
But that’s not how European treaties are negotiated. They are a package, formed out of a compromise, and each member state has to accept or reject the whole thing. To encourage the idea that Britain can pick and choose which parts of the treaty it might accept or reject, after the treaty has been negotiated and even after it has been ratified, is going to create more problems and misapprehensions, not fewer.
And then there is Chris Grayling, who is reported by the BBC as saying that there is “a very strong sense … that we simply can not accept what is on the table” with the Lisbon Treaty. But he urged the party not to become obsessed with Europe in the run-up to a general election “when the rest of the country want to be debating health and education and how we are going to balance the books”.
But that doesn’t work as a strategy, either. For how can Chris Grayling justify embarking on any kind of attempt to change the Lisbon treaty if he is not willing to discuss it with the voters first. He lays his own party open to the same criticisms as he has been happily been making of Labour.